JOHN Swinney is facing demands to introduce regular staff testing across schools after union leaders reported two-thirds of support workers don’t feel safe there.

The GMB union, which represents cleaners, janitors, caterers and pupil support assistants, warned the Education Secretary not to repeat the mistakes seen in social care, where scores of staff fell sick because of inadequate protection and testing. 

The call came as Nicola Sturgeon announced secondary pupils must start wearing face masks between lessons to help curb the infection.

The First Minister said the Government was set to recommend coverings in corridors and other communal areas where social distancing was not possible, but not yet in classrooms.

The parent-led Us for Them campaign, which forced ministers to make a U-turn on their plans for part-time learning, said it would oppose the face-covering guidance.

The GMB last night wroteto Mr Swinney with the results of a survey of more 1,400 of its members who work in Scotland’s schools.

It found 96 per cent believe they should be offered regular testing at work, 63% did not feel safe at their work and 23% had seen a suspected Covid case at their workplace. 

The union said its demand was simple: “Testing kits delivered to every education setting on a weekly basis and staff have the choice to get a routine test in the workplace.”

GMB Scotland organiser Helen Meldrum said: “Over a week since the return of Scotland’s schools, it’s clear that many support staff do not feel safe at their work and the overwhelming majority of them want to be able to access a Covid test at work.

“If support staff need to book a test, they must absorb the financial costs and time implications to do so, and for a chronically low-paid workforce with many employed on multiple contracts across multiple workplaces, that’s just not credible.

“The failure over the summer to listen to the voices of school support staff echoes what we witnessed in care earlier this year. The political focus has been on teachers and pupils while support staff have been forgotten.

“You cannot have a safe return to full-time education if a significant chunk of the workforce needed do not feel sufficiently safe, valued or heard by our decision-makers, and that’s why we urge the Deputy First Minister to intervene now.”

Mr Swinney has already offered school and nursery staff Covid tests on demand at testing centres, but not regular workplace testing.

After a series of recent Covid cases in schools in recent days, and guidance from the World Health Organisation on masks for over-12s in schools, Ms Sturgeon said the Government was in the “final stages” of consulting with teachers and councils about face coverings becoming mandatory in secondary school corridors and communal spaces. 

She said ministers were also considering whether to make masks mandatory on school transport.

Ms Sturgeon said schools would have a store of masks for pupils who forgot them, but sidestepped questions on how the measure would be enforced, and if pupils could be excluded if they refused to wear one.

She said: “We are consulting on this specific measure because mixing between different groups is more likely in corridors and communal areas - increasing the potential for transmission.

“Crowding and close contact is more likely, and voices could be raised - resulting in greater potential for creating aerosol transmission.

“So this is a position, if we conclude it as we expect to do, that would reflect - and actually go slightly beyond - current WHO guidance.

“We are not currently consulting on any proposals to wear face coverings in the classroom.”

She rejected a suggestion she should have done this sooner.

She also said 66 positive Covid cases overnight, and no deaths.

James Gillespie High School in Edinburgh, Grantown Grammar School in Grantown on Spey and Millburn Academy in Inverness have independently said masks need to be worn between classes.

EIS General Secretary Larry Flanagan said: “In situations where physical distancing is difficult, for example in busy corridors when pupils are moving between classes, use of face coverings becomes more important and we welcome the current Scottish Government consultation on this issue.” 

However Jo Bisset, of Us for Them Scotland, said: “Forcing children to wear masks when there’s little, if any, scientific evidence to support [it] could be hugely damaging.

“It could have an extremely negative impact on pupils with autism, hearing impairments and conditions such as asthma.

“We also have to consider those children from unstable households who simply won’t be sent to school with any mask, let alone one that is safe and effective.

“Parents want to get their children back to school and for that experience to be as normal as it possibly can be.

“Forced wearing of masks in the classroom, or when moving about the building, would not achieve any sense of normality for children who’ve endured quite enough in recent months.

“Parents want the Scottish Government and councils to rule this out.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “This change of policy is the right thing to do and will provide an extra barrier of protection from the virus and reassurance to staff, pupils and parents.  

“The reality on the ground in Scotland’s schools was outpacing the government’s policy and with the World Health Organisation recommending face coverings between classes and in other parts of the school estate this move is the right one.” 

Green MSP Ross Greer said: “I am pleased that the Scottish Government is finally moving to encourage the wearing of face coverings in schools.

“The Greens first proposed this in June and consistently pressed the Government over the summer to strengthen their guidance, including last week at First Minister’s Questions.

“There is clear evidence that face coverings significantly reduce transmission of the virus.

“So it is disappointing that it’s taken the government so long to hear teachers’ concerns, rather than make this inevitable change before schools reopened.

“I am confused as to why the First Minister thinks masks should be worn in corridors but not classrooms though.

“She can’t have spent much time in high schools recently if she thinks social distancing is going on in classes of twenty to thirty teenagers when the classrooms are no bigger than they were in March.”